Accepting Emotional Regulation

My Feelings

Last year, I discovered Asperger’s syndrome and emotional regulation were connected. For many on the autism spectrum, emotions come in three flavors: happy, depressed, and anxious. Typical people detect a broad, nuanced range of emotion, whereas some autistic individuals possess emotional dials that click on grooves set at too happy, too anxious, or too depressed.


My good moods have never been manic, but they are disproportionate. I’m rarely a little jolly; I’m full-on yahoo happy.  My tipping point for bliss is low. A new set of watercolors evokes a shout and a jig, which I try not to perform in front of the craft store staff.   Even when I eat, I am not normal. I am jazzed because these nachos are delicious!!!

My proclivity for cheer is a blessing. Despite other dysregulated emotions, I am grateful to bob in a mirthful sea.


Opposing happiness is depression. I equate depression with being tired. Not tired in an I-need-to-sleep way, but tired in an I-need-to-be-alone way.

This weariness is a murky, heavy sensation. Like a thick toxic gas, it engorges the limbs and stifles the mind. For me, this miserable state is indistinguishable from all other negative emotions.

In fact, I experience illness, tiredness, boredom, and depression exactly the same.   I only differentiate these conditions by how they respond to various interventions:

  • Illness responds to rest.
  • Tiredness responds to tea.
  • Boredom responds to art.
  • Depression responds to activity.

Each time fatigue grips me, the Cure List brings relief. It may be cumbersome, but the strategy helps me more than any diet, therapy, supplement, or medication. I advocate a list strategy for all who struggle with “big chunk” emotions.


My Anxieties

While I cannot differentiate negative emotions, I can categorize a thousand types of anxiety. Perhaps my experience of happiness and depression are crude because my mental wiring is bound up with endless gradations of anxiety. Every miniscule discomfort and nagging worry enjoys its own specific register.  The unease of an unlocked door differs from the fretfulness of unsanitized hands.

Likewise, not recognizing someone I should know prickles my skin in a different way than missing an obvious joke.

My son, however, cannot discern anxiety from anger.  To him, all anxiety feels like anger.   I wonder how many “anger management” classes host similarly wired individuals.

Accept Autism


Literature concerning self-acceptance tends to ignore the greater issue of societal acceptance. A person who experiences emotions differently than the majority can feel isolated, especially when pressure is put on them to conform.  Emotions are our deepest, most personal gifts and the last place anyone should meddle.

I encourage spectrumites struggling with emotional regulation to pursue strategies to boost their quality of life. Keep a mood journal and look for “big block” patterns—that’s how I recognized that I experience negative states as tired and positive states as “really happy.”

Experiment with what helps regulation and document the activities that enhance wellness the most. After I’ve drank my tea, I kick-start a sluggish brain with some organizing (or spinning!). It pulls me out of a depressed day I would have confused with a sick day. And when I’m sick—Netflix!

I love floating through life with extra happiness.  I channel the mental zing anxiety gives me into worthy tasks. I still struggle with negative states but my tools work well. I accept myself.

We each can be our own master, our own specialist, notebooks and calculator in hand. Even when our brains muddle over feelings we can use our strengths as data gathers and pattern recognition experts to craft our own wellness. Meet life’s persistent challenges with confidence by mastering the strategies that work best for you.

42 thoughts on “Accepting Emotional Regulation

  1. Lori!!!! Thank you so much for this post! You put such perfect words and images (which I love) together to help me understand myself a little bit more. I know this post will help so many others too. I am doing a happy jig to your post! 🙂

    You are the best! Much love to you my friend! (Hee hee look at all my exclamation points, can you guess what emotion I am feeling tonight? ;-))

    1. Angel!
      I appreciate your sweet words so much! It’s a treat to soak up encouragement from you! I see such a similarity between us, at least as far as happy goes! Including the useage of exclaimation points!!! 🙂

      1. I recently am coming to terms I’m possibly on the spectrum.. doctor advice– seek out more information from other other Aspies (well local support group) but this helps me because–

        wow….. this explains my emotions as well… lots of abnormally happy, especially for my age… WOW NACHOS!!!! 😉 I love your interventions as well… I’ve been feeling uh.. not so WOW NACHOS!! Lately, and not feeling social due to difficulties with others recently- again…. so I’ve been alone in my WOW BBQ sauce phase. lol

        Thanks for sharing. I’m working on self-acceptance and reaching out for support– still scary and still uncertain but — trying not to hide (at least not hide from others who maybe more accepting than the norm).

        1. Sugar Sugar, I understand how you feel. Learning that I had Asperger’s was a huge life changer for me. Absolutely one of the best things to happen! You are very wise to seek out other spectrum adults. I have learned so much from my fellow bloggers–not only about my self, but to know I am not alone. The issues we cope with are vast and varied. My husband is on the spectrum, but he has different strengths/weaknesses. Regulation is different for him. I wish you well on your journey of self discovery and look forward to hearing from you in the future!


    2. Thank you so much for this article. I have a son who is on the autism spectrum and your comments have really hit home when it comes to understanding what he is feeling. I could actually put him in your place when you described various situations. As a mom, this post opens the door to help answer the barrage of questions that haunt me on a daily basis. Don’t ever stop writing, your candor and imaginative style are priceless!!

      1. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. My mission in life is to be an autistic translator. When people understand each other, we can help one another. All of us have strengths, gifts, and weaknesses. Life is about working together to be the beast each of us can be.

        Thank you!
        Lori D.

  2. My favorite slice of the Lori pie chart is the yellow one. My second favorite slice is the tiny black line between yellow and black/pink stripes. Therein genius lies. But all the slices make up LORI, and I would be a lessor person if I didn’t know that pie 🙂

    1. Aaaand two weeks later I reply. How silly that I get soooo excited by comments and don’t know what to say. But you know me! You are a dear friend and I am grateful for the 26+ years of acceptance you have given me!

    1. Ha! I wrote that for you! I still dream of those yummy nachos you would make for me at the Tortugas house! Oh, such nostalgia! Such deliciousness!

  3. Great advice and beautiful words! (and lovely graphics!). I especially like this bit:

    We each can be our own master, our own specialist, notebooks and calculator in hand. Even when our brains muddle over feelings we can use our strengths as data gathers and pattern recognition experts to craft our own wellness. Meet life’s persistent challenges with confidence by mastering the strategies that work best for you.


    Re. ‘blocks’, I can’t tell strong anxiety from illness; a bad flue, a bad hang over and a panic attack feel identical, and can all cause me to pass out in identical ways. Like you use your list, I tell the categories apart by their responses plus additional symptoms: if anti-anxiety strategies help, then it is a psychological problem, and if they don’t and especially if I also have fever and it helps to just lay still and rest for a long time, then it must be physical illness.

    1. Mados!
      Thank you so much for visiting. I’ve been struggling a bit in writing and comments, so I am cheered you visited.

      I am grateful you shared your experience with anxiety–I completely understand what you feel. Anxiety is like fuel to me, high levels go right to my legs–I need to walk. It must be very challenging to have that feeling overlap with illness. I feel heartened to learn you cope the same way as I do How curious our brains are! And, how clever we are to maintain them! Thank you for sharing!

      1. It is always a great pleasure to visit! and thank you very much for sharing too.

        I am very glad you can relate.

        Anxiety is fuel… I agree with that. An anxiety-triggered boost in energy & alertness can be quite useful (as long as it doesn’t evolve into panic and mental shut-down) in relation to a task or performance of sort, and for exercise. The best times I have been running I was either anxious, angry or socially overloaded (or happy)… Strong emotions create physical energy. I can relate to your need to walk when anxious… I used to do that a lot, then later I changed preference to cycling, and then running.

        Yes, somatic/mental overlaps can make it harder to identify problems and causes and know what to do. I haven’t experienced major panic attacks (or flu) for years, so it is not an everyday struggle or anything like that, I just got inspired to reflect about it from what you wrote.

        It is quite interesting what you wrote that your son and dad experience anxiety as anger! That sound like a challenge for the surrounding people.

        PS. Sorry for replying late…. I replied a few days ago but then was interrupted, and in the meanwhile my laptop went into sleep mode and when I came back hours later, it had auto-logged out and the comment was gone, I couldn’t remember the content and I got so frustrated I didn’t return to rewrite it for a while…

  4. Literature concerning self-acceptance tends to ignore the greater issue of societal acceptance.

    I agree with that. A major weakness of most self-help books about self-acceptance, self-esteem et.c. is that they don’t factor in the diversity of neither the readers, nor the social contexts they live in.

    1. Wow! In a nutshell! You are so right. I know I have challenges with regulation, and that this is pathologised in an unhelpful way. I imagine others who labled with “borderline personality disorder.” I speculate that they might have difficulty with interpersonal regulation. I am soooo regulated in my relationships–but others are not. Perhaps it is neurological and we should help people find strategies instead of trying to “cure” them?

      1. I am not sure if I understand this comment, but I’ll give it a go:

        Yes, Borderline Personality Disorder is characterised by difficulty with interpersonal regulation (and emotional regulation) too, amongst other things. Do you mean that BPD is neurological in nature too? I have read an article a while ago that suggested it might be (sorry, I don’t remember the source).

        I have read others that suggested that the separation between different psychiatric diagnosis is traditional rather than scientific, that psychiatric diagnosis don’t really represent discrete disorders as such, and that the same genetic differences dispose for conditions like Schizophrenia, Bipolar and AHDH… (You mentioned something similar yourself earlier, this is just new research). Here is a link: Vaughan Bell: news from the borders of mental illness. A quote from the article:

        This new realisation rests on evidence that genetic factors initially associated with, for example, schizophrenia have now been recognised as equally important in raising the risk for several other problems including epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, autism and learning disability.

        1. Sorry if my comment was confusing, but you interpreted it well. I have never been able to manage full-time work, but for many years I worked part-time with seriously mentally ill individuals. I saw a great deal of overlap in many symptoms, including regulatory issues with mood and interpersonal relations. I do speculate that BPD has neurological components. Individuals who are not taught coping skills struggle–just like Tyoma would struggle without being explicitly taught certain social rules.

          The wrong environment might be more damaging to suceptible individuals–“typical neurology” makes a person more resilient. Those outside the norms struggle. I’ve met lovely people coping with BPD. I related to their emotional ups and downs. The interpersonal issue, hyper-valuing or denigrating loved ones seems so ingrained that I speculate neurology is responsible.

          I have always been curious about the origins of the human personality–why are some people kind while others are selfish, and so on. Part of the reason I chose clinical psychology was to understand this. Now, my eyes are open to the possibility that some individuals are simply “born that way.” It makes sense to me that neurology underpins most of our personality traits, but environment must factor in too. Understanding this variation could help people have more satisfying lives by offering acceptance and/or sensible therapies.

          Thank you for the thoughtful comment and link. I will be mindful on my next research forray to save some links to share! 🙂

    2. Thank you! Sorry for my slow reply! I was a bit wary about replying to this one because I fear I will write a too long and personal comment. I will try to restrain myself:-)

      Thank you for sharing your experience and observations. I have also observed that certain symptoms/difficulties tend to overlap in severe mental disorders.

      My point of observation is different, because I was an in-patient in a mental hospital over 20 years ago, for almost one and a half year. Most of the time in a youth ward, but I also a few periods in adults’ sections (youth ward= progress focussed, adults’ sections = containment/’damage control’:-). My diagnosis was ‘borderline psychosis’*, which is not used anymore. It doesn’t mean psychosis… which I wasn’t). Diagnoses, including my own, did not interest my at all, so I did not enquire about details or tried to find out what it implied. Borderline Psychosis can mean BPD, Schizoid and other personality disorders, but based on comments I remember I got from staff and my psychiatrist in the hospital, I’m pretty sure that I was diagnosed with BPD.

      I did a bit of online research about BPD (articles, YouTube videos, an online test) not so long ago, and I’m quite sure it was a misdiagnosis in my case. I also scored well under the threshold for mild BPD in the online test, also when I tried to answer ‘as if’ I was like 20 years ago. I did have extremely poor emotional regulation at the time (major, unpredictable mood swings, self harm), and social problems – mainly with establishing relationships, function socially in groups/be accepted (even in the ward…), and tolerating people I did not know well. I extremely disliked certain people, but I have never had the ‘hyper-valuing or denigrating loved ones’ tendency, and it sounds like an incredible nasty betrayal to me… to first love someone and make them open up and be vulnerable and attached, and then throw them away in the dirt! (although I know it isn’t people’s own fault when they do that, I too suspect it may be hard-wired). My old childhood friend has that tendency with boyfriends, and I think it is very cruel. It generally makes me very uncomfortable when someone trash-talks their ex-partner, ex-friend, ex-pet, ex-whatever… I can’t see how it is possible to build up a long term relationship with a complete idiot, then suddenly realise the person is an idiot and not worthy of love and respect at all, and then trash the person and tell everybody else about how unworthy the person is. That tells me that something is severely wrong with the trash-talker’s trustworthiness, and not the dumped person.

      Anyway… The youth ward provided things that I think are almost universally beneficial to persons who are mentally unstable/confused/’broken’… such as stability, structure (weekly individualised programme covering all days…), predictability, control, therapy. Even if it didn’t really address the key problems (social, and noise sensitivity… the latter not addressed at all, except for the nurse telling me I had to take breaks from wearing ear plugs or I would get ear infections!), a highly controlled social environment where the pressure of expectations was very low and there were plenty of fast opt-outs because my own room was always near by as a refugee to withdraw to. [:Deleting a hole lot of stuff and trying to swing back to the main track and not go off on a personal tangent too much. Sorry, I try to not do that!]

      Now, my eyes are open to the possibility that some individuals are simply “born that way.” It makes sense to me that neurology underpins most of our personality traits, but environment must factor in too.

      I totally agree, and I share you curiosity about what makes some people kind and other selfish assholes and in some cases, deliberately evil. Psychopathic personalities is one of the mental health aspects that interest me most… I think driven by the need to keep the world safe and stable on behalf of myself and others. I think Ashana’s blog (TheDaily Headache) is a great source of insider observations/reflections about that topic, for tragic reason. The link goes to the tag ‘Understanding evil’.

      *Directly translated

      1. Have no fear of delayed comment with me. I sometimes become incredibly anxious and cannot visit my blog for days–let alone respond with the respect and thought I feel my readers deserve.

        I’m going to plunge into a quick response, and then mull over your writing. I appreciate the detail and thought you put into everything you write. I also deeply appreciate your candor.

        The stigma of mental illnes in my family used to be immense. My Grandfather was in and out of mental institutions and other family members were diagnosed with serious mental conditions. As a young woman, I desperately needed help. I have always had “nervous breakdowns” every few years until I found the right meds to be on. My folks took care of me during these times. I could have benefited greatly from the care you describe but I doubt I could have found it in my dinky hometown.

        I see psychology as being akin to astrology–people pull a good deal of information out of their nose without the science to back it up. It “sorta works” in the same way a horoscope is “sorta accurate.” Examining neurolgy makes it more objective. Look ing at people as variations as opposed to mistakes is also important. When we equate value directly to a person’s characteristics, we cannot study them as well. Even evil is a blend.

        I am looking forward to reading the blog you reccomended. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I cannot find feeling words well, or assemble them sensibly, but I am moved and honored.

        1. Thank you for sharing!

          I see psychology as being akin to astrology–people pull a good deal of information out of their nose without the science to back it up. It “sorta works” in the same way a horoscope is “sorta accurate.”

          That is a hilarious description. I can see that and do agree with the principles… but I think that applies to psychiatry too. Psychiatry is also based on which meds seem to work for the majority, without any real clue of why it works… fumbling blind, basically. That said, seeing a good psychologist or psychiatrist can be very helpful. Patchy science doesn’t change that. My current psychologist is really good, and I have had one psychiatrist many years ago, who also made a big difference and was a good support in trying to get things more on track again (that wasn’t in the hospital described above).

          My family also has its share of both severe mental disorders on the paternal side (Schizophrenia and Bipolar – some of my dad’s siblings, who are no longer alive, et.c) and neuroticism on the maternal side (pretty much everybody;-). On the maternal side, due to the apparent absence of severe mental disorder, the dominant perception is that mental illness is primarily caused by environmental factors such as one’s upbringing. Which I guess is like a blame game wildcard for everybody, when there is so much neuroticism in the family! (compulsive behaviours, phobias, anxiety, self-stressing…) I find that quite problematic, very guilt-inducing. After learning about ASD, I see ASD-like and ADD-like traits everywhere in the family… guiding the social style and invisibly fuelling a lot of the stress and neuroticism. I think that’s the invisible joker that makes the family culture quirky and ‘high strung’.

          It seems that they primarily all blame the neuroticism on my grand dad… Who was a very high-strung person, very entertaining and fun but also very neurotic, putting constant pressure on his surroundings with his extreme orderliness and perfectionism, obsession with rules and schedules, and repetitions of the same things over and over. And I think rightly so… but maybe not in the way they think.

          Look ing at people as variations as opposed to mistakes is also important.

          I agree with that. I think mental illness can be ‘created’ by the environment in the sense that feeling socially accepted, respected and valued is essential to anyone (solitaire or not), and whether a person can achieved or not doesn’t only depend on the person’s own personality and behaviour, but very much rely on other people’s ability and will to respect, understand and include. People can save others, and they can trash others!

  5. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first comment. Amazing post. Very illuminating. My son also experiences all anxiety (which is a lot) as anger.

    1. Becky,
      Thank you so much for reading my blog and leaving a comment I feel so anxious leaving and responding to comments! I appreciate it! It is amazing that anxiety can be experienced as anger. My 80 year old Aspie father still struggles with this at times. He does not respond with anger, but rather with defensiveness–as if he is threatened. We find that a calm environment helps a good deal for both my Dad and my son Tyoma. School can be a real struggle at times, but once our treatment team was educated, life improved dramatically. Best wishes to you.

  6. Such a relief to see that other people experience the same emotions as in your first illustration. I knew the anxiety was pretty widespread, but I didn’t know that others had the same experience of being scary-giddy!!

  7. I love this, I love this, I love this. My son experiences a huge range of emotions really quickly and really intensely. He can be giddy-laughing-silly when he is very anxious. And he is extremely happy as in “this is the best restaurant EVER!” even when it’s not particularly his favorite food or a great place to stay, but he is excited. I knew about the challenges of regulating, but what I love about your post is the checklist of things you go through to help you identify the supports you need right then. I’ve started doing this with my son – but usually after the fact – when he can process it. THANK YOU for these tools!

    1. Thank you so much, Brenda. I’ve been trying to formulate an worthy response and all I can say is that I am deeply touched I could help. Giving another person a tool is giving them sucess! Emotional regulation impacts both my son and me. It is daily work, but it is also a tremendous blessing! I hope this continues to serve you and Jack well. Thank you for visiting with me! 🙂

  8. This is brilliant! So clear and easy to understand. It not only gives me a better understanding of how my son feels emotion, & how to help him regulate it, but also for my husband, who not on the spectrum, but shares many traits. I can totally see his reactions to emotion in your explanations, and this will help us to communicate and connect better.

    1. Thank you very much, Debbie. It has taken me many years to reach this point. The insight of other autistic adults has helped me understand myself and son much better. i am so glad to have been able to share some of what I learned. I appreciate you dropping by and leaving a few words.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. I too experience emotions as either negative or positive and mine are more or less indistinguishable.

    I hadn’t really put much thought into anxiety, perhaps because it has been such a constant presence in my life that it would be akin to describing my dissatisfaction with having skin.

    It’s certainly not a happy state for me (although it can be energizing as you say) but it isn’t sadness either.

    I’m trying to think about how I experience anxiety as I am writing this and I’m getting the impression that my anxiety is fixed on one setting, which is me frantically trying to get out of a straight jacket before the torture squad arrives!

    I experience anxiety as an emergency, flight or fight mode, my head ready to explode at any moment.

    The horror!

    Your cure list is wonderful and I will be putting that to work straight away as well as developing a personalized Emergency Handbook –

  10. Hi Lori! I finally got a chance to read this post. I love it. Very insightful. My son has challenges with emotional regulation. Reading this gives me a new way to think about these challenges and different approaches we can help him use as he grows. <3 Monica

    1. Monica! Thank you for the visit and supportive words. My biggest insights in many way come from observing my son and connecting our experiences together. Many adults on the spectrum write and share their perceptions. It helps me endlessly! Best of luck to you and your son. What we do today will make the next generations coping strategies much stronger.

  11. I love this post. It’s me exactly, especially the happy eating… My husband gets a little annoyed when I say ummmm or yummy after every bite if I love something ! I still have a hard time figuring out what to do when exceptionally excited . Ill ramble on & on or if the opportunity is there ill consume wine ! I love the calming effect and the taste;)

    1. I hear you! One of the greatest blessings of being on the spectrum is the sheer delight we can experience. It’s so intense! I totally get the “yummy” thing! Goodness, I might start doing that myself! Thank you for visiting, Natalie! 🙂

  12. Also, as I’ve mentioned before we both have an exceptionally intelligent 6 year old Aspie boys. We have lots in common, my little family are wacky, happy , anxious & funny! I wouldn’t have it any other way

    1. So true! I crave stimulation and have always liked eccentric and different people. Intellect and creativity delight me. Our boys seem to be the same age. That’s wonderful! I have moments when I feel so deeply satisfied with my life, despite occasional struggles. It’s good to know I have company! 🙂

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